“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson
The idea behind this article originated after watching a video of Sir Ken Robinson speaking at a 2006 TED conference on “why schools kill creativity“. Before I go any further, let me first recommend that you watch this 19:29 length video in its entirety. Sir Ken is a brilliant thinker and an engaging and humorous speaker, and you’ll hopefully be as moved by his entire commentary as I was.
“Thirty-six satisfactory exposures on a roll means a photographer is not trying anything new.” Freeman Patterson
The crux of my commentary herein is summarized by Sir Ken five minutes into the video: “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” How exactly does this relate to the photographer/artist? Reflecting on my own history and career, if I had heeded all the advice offered to me, and if I had obeyed all the discouragement and dissuading thrown my way, I might never have had the courage to take my work the places it has gone. I would have never explored and proceeded forth with my own black and white photography; I was told that you can’t sell it and there’s not a big enough market for it. I also would have never explored and experimented with selective- and soft-focus in traditional landscape photography. There was no evidence that I could succeed with either, but I’m stubborn, I bore easily, and I listen to me first.
I’ve begun a new project (photographs coming soon) that is a bit different in concept than anything I’ve done previously, and I’ve already had good friends attempt to invalidate my new work even though I’m excited by it. When you’re trying to grow your work and your style – which is imperative for any artist who doesn’t want to stagnate – you must ignore your naysayers and follow your instincts; they are what drive your art. It is better to have tried and failed then to have listened to those detractors who would have discouraged your explorations in the first place.
I offer here a few suggestions for growing your own art. I didn’t just randomly pull these ideas out of a hat; these are some of the exact steps I took in order to get where I am today. If you’re tired of reproducing your own photographs and tired of your formulaic way of working (shooting fish in a barrel), consider some of these style- and consciousness-altering methods:
* Be willing to return from a shoot completely empty-handed;
* Be willing to create your own photographic brand even if you know that not everyone will like it;
* Recognize that not everyone will like all of your work all of the time; you’re no different than any other artist in this regard;
* You can never apologize for the work you create, even when someone expresses their direct dislike for it. It is, after all, your work;
* You must be willing to forgo the obvious and commonplace photographs in order to find your own photographic voice;
* You must be willing to let go of all your preconceived notions about what your photographs should or must look like. They don’t have to be sharply focused or highly detailed (great work is being done with iPhone’s!); they don’t have to contain beauty or anything beautiful; and they don’t have to provide a documentary representation of the location in which you are shooting;
* If you feel like the photograph you’re about to make might be derivative, it probably is;
* Your photographs must represent you and your photographic voice in a compelling and engaging manner;
* Your art is a journey, never a destination. You’ll never know your potential until you allow it to come forth;
* Be willing to fail. Not every experiment is successful, yet there’s something to be learned from every experiment.
Finally, make lots and lots of photographs, for exploration is the key to discovery.
You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.